We help Michael zero in on his Ironman goals after Comrades

We help Michael zero in on his Ironman goals after Comrades

On this edition of RUN with Coach Parry we help Michael Aikman work towards improving Ironman performance after running the Comrades Marathon.

What are you training for?

Click on any of the images below to download your training program now

BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto yet another edition of RUN with Coach Parry. I’m Brad Brown. It’s awesome to have you with us.

Thank you for listening to and downloading this podcast. If you are enjoying it we’d love it if you left us a review and rating on iTunes. It just helps us get in front of more people and into more ear holes so to speak. The more people listening to the podcast, the more we can help.

We’ve got another guest on the podcast that we’re going to see if we can help improve their athletic performance. It’s not just running today, we’re going to be talking a little bit of triathlon too.

As always, the coach joins us, Lindsey Parry. Lindsey, nice to catch up once again.

COACH PARRY: Hi, yes Brad. I’m very excited with this call. Running was always my first love, call it that. But triathlon was what brought me back to coaching. I’ve always got a soft spot for triathlon and speaking all things triathlon so this is going to be a cool call.

BRAD BROWN: Yes, absolutely. And it’s a huge welcome onto the podcast; it’s not a South African accent, Michael Aikman.

Michael welcome onto RUN. Thanks for joining us.

MICHAEL AIKMAN: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

BRAD BROWN: Michael, just a little bit about your background. That is, I believe it’s an American accent, but you’re not currently living in the States. You’re living in Kuwait I believe.

A citizen of different Worlds

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  My history is too complex. I’m a Canadian. I’ve lived in the Middle East for 13 years. Russia for a year. I have a house in Houston; I have a house in Brazil where my wife is from so I don’t think I’m a citizen of any one country anymore.

BRAD BROWN: I was going to say you’re a citizen of the world it sounds like. But you’re lucky enough to be able to travel quite a bit and get to do races around the globe.

You’ve done some cool races, including the Comrades Marathon. You get to do some Ironman races around the planet too.

I guess living in the Middle East, as far as the globe perspective goes, it’s almost slap bang in the middle and you can pick and choose where you want to go.

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  Yes, it has been a blessing just to be given the great opportunity to see different cultures. Participate in different events and combine the best of many different worlds.

BRAD BROWN: Tell us a little bit about your athletic endeavours. What are you into, what sort of stuff do you do? How long have you been doing it and where did it all start?

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  I guess it started in high school where I was a rugby player and I tore my ankle and that put me out of a whole lot of running for about 20 years or so.

My return to running – because I read a book

Then I got back in 2009 after playing around with form, based on reading that great book Born to Run which I’m sure we’ve all read. I found that by having the proper form, placing my foot underneath my centre of gravity, I could actually get back into running. So I went from being able to run a painful 2km, to being able to run marathons and ultramarathons. Since 2009 I’ve been running quite a few marathons, about 4 or 5 a year.

I started Comrades in 2011 and in 2012 I added in triathlon as well. Having had a sprain coming into Comrades 2012,  I had to take the time out. So I went out and bought a bike and that’s where I got into a little bit more of the Ironman events. That’s a good enough introduction, I think.

BRAD BROWN: You’ve been sucked into the Ironman racing culture in a big way. You’re obviously very passionate about it and we’re going to touch on a bit of that. I’m going to hand you over to the coach now.

Lindsey, an exciting call. Michael’s got a very diverse sporting background and someone that’s pretty cool to work with.

COACH PARRY: Michael I’m not going to spend too much time talking upfront. The point really is for you to ask me questions and get out of this call what you need out of the call.

The brief comment that I have is that you really are a good runner. A best time of 3:15 for a marathon which in a year takes in quite a lot of marathons, ultramarathons and Ironman distance races. We can safely say that’s not your best possible marathon. I would be interested to hear then what sort of marathons you are running off the bike at Ironman.

Get off the bike in better shape for your Ironman run

Then just based on your comment about getting better, or how to make yourself get off the bike in a better position for running. I’m sure you’ve got a couple of specific questions to ask me then I’ll cover that in more general terms towards the end of the call.

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  Sounds great. Yes my best marathon time was 3:02:32 some time ago. That was my only focus and those have been 2 events per year. The 3:15 to 3:30 that’s more of a relaxed pace where within 2 days I can get back  into some pretty decent training.

The issue on the triathlon, again I’m trying to improve that. I came close to breaking 12 hours this past time round but what I want to do is get it down to 11:30 or so, or better if I can. I know that a lot of it is being driven by the swim where my best swim time ever was 1:20. So if I can take that down to 1:10 that would be great. But I’m sort of stagnant between 1:20 and 1:30 for the 2.8km swim.

Then on the bike I can do about 6 hours, plus or minus 5 or 10 minutes. So if we can take that down to 5:40, or 5:30 that’s fantastic. But without compromising the run performance. I’ll have to keep the run locked in at about 3:15 for the marathon. The whole thing is to transition everything fluently into a grid run and finish the day at about 11-and-a-half hours. That’s sort of my next goal and I’ve got a bit lined up in September. A race where I’ve run it before back in 2014 so I’m familiar with it. I’d like to have a great performance there if I can.

Compromising your Ironman performance because of your swim

COACH PARRY: I guess the bad news on the swimming front is that with the swim you have to put in a huge amount of effort for comparatively little gain. There are 2 areas where you can focus on to improve the swimming.

One is looking at the stroke mechanics. Building lots of drills into your swimming program, so that you can improve your particular body position in the water and the reduction of drag. That is quite important. We do so much cardiovascular exercise around preparing for triathlon. Even if it means in the short term compromising a little bit on your swimming fitness. It’s something that needs to be done particularly if you want to improve your swimming. Otherwise what will happen is you will spend a lot more time or invest more time in the swimming, which normally needs to come from somewhere else. So, you start to compromise other parts of your Ironman performance.

You get fitter but you don’t necessarily get faster. So in the end it still often works because it means that you come out of the water in 1:20 but a lot fresher. Because you’re using a lot less energy but you’re still not more efficient in the water. You’re still fighting against the drag and the poor mechanics so in other words you just can’t swim faster. Although you can swim that speed at slightly lower effort.

Why you should work with a swim coach

The long term fix for it is to incorporate loads of swimming drills starting with very basic one arm pull type of drills. Moving into more complex skill type of drills and then doing your side on, call them assegaai, almost like you’re carrying a spear above the water. Those kinds of drills which really strengthen your body position in the water and allow you to use your legs more effectively to maintain your balance in slip stream position in the water.

The shorter term fix is actually to get a swim coach that will work specifically on your stroke. And typically why I find this doesn’t work that well is because people will go to a specialist. They will see them, they’ll get advice and you need to fix 12 things. You go off and it’s very confusing to fix 12 things in one go.

You need to fix 1 or 2 things and when those things are fixed, then you fix the next 2 or 3 things. When you do it like that then over the course of 3 to 6 weeks you can make enormous improvements in your swimming.

That is the route to take for your swimming. Unless you’re a really good swimmer it’s very seldom a physiological issue. Obviously, if you’re a good swimmer then we can talk to the trainer.

Improve yourself as a cyclist

Moving onto the cycling, there’s always 2 ways for me to work on the cycling. In an Olympic distance triathlon, if your run off the bike is less than 7% slower than your 10k run, then typically we don’t want to interfere with the run off the bike. Or with your bike too much. Because it means that you’re coming off the bike with legs that are in a pretty good place for running.

If we do some maths quickly, you’re doing around 3:15 to 3:30 on a fairly easy marathon, so you’re pretty much where you want to be. In terms of that your marathon isn’t too bad. You could possibly get yourself 5 or 6 minutes on the run. But in actual fact your run performance in the Ironman is mirroring your run performance in the rest. That is quite good.

That also means for you to get the time you’re looking for on the bike we really do need to turn you into a better cyclist. If we turn you into a better cyclist, you’re actually pacing yourself quite well at the moment.

Your race management looks good. That’s the other place I wanted to go. It’s always nice when people are messing that up because then we can find some free time in there. So, your race management is pretty good and that does mean we need to get down to improving you as a cyclist.

Building endurance on your bike

Your aerobic condition is clearly good and strong. You’re running a 3:15 marathon; you’re able to train normally 2 days later, quite well. So your aerobic is in a good place. What that really means is we need to get you more power on the bike to make you a stronger athlete so that when you tap into that very strong aerobic capacity that you’ve got. You will then be able to maintain that slightly higher power over a longer period of time.

To do that I follow 3 phases in training. Once you’ve settled on your goal, you’ve got your race, and you’re confident that your aerobic prep is where it needs to be. You work back about 12 to 16 weeks from your planned race. And you literally split that up into 4 week blocks. For 3 weeks you will work particularly hard on your bike strength, so that will be doing hill repeats using a lower RPM so you’re effectively doing gym on your bike. You then go into a week of recovery.

Coming out of that week, you then do longer intervals. That will be in the region of 8 to 15 intervals where you’ll do between 3 and 6 of those. You will have to judge a little bit. It firstly depends on your time availability and secondly, where your condition is for 3 weeks. Then you go into a recovery week.

Intervals gets shorter as you get quicker

Then we push into 3 weeks of dropping those intervals down to 5 to 8 minute intervals. Moving into the final 4 week block which is where you will be starting to taper. And then we’ll push you into 2 to 5 minute intervals on the bike. So, probably an hour’s worth of intervals. If you’re doing 2 minute repeats you would typically do about 20 repeats of that. If you do 5 minute pieces we’ll typically do 8 to 12 of those.

Still carrying on with your normal aerobic stuff. Your longer easier stuff in between. That 1 session a week of really pushing that up. It will then allow you to get into race day where you can go close to half an hour, or maybe 10 to 15 minutes quicker on the bike. But still be able to pull off that 3:45 to 3:50 run.

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  Ok, and if you live in a place where you don’t have any hills, can you substitute that with indoor spin classes focused on power?

COACH PARRY: Absolutely. If you’ve got access to a proper indoor urg then you can quite successfully substitute that. Otherwise on an actual spinning class you would put it onto a high resistance so that you have to push hard and maintain an RPM when you’re doing the strength phase. Your RPM that you want to maintain is 60 to 65.

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  60 to 65, okay.

COACH PARRY: Yes, so it’s really grinding work. It’s literally like pushing a weight while you’re on a bicycle.

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  Yes I’ve got one of those indoor fluid trainers. There’s no set on it but as it warms up the fluid becomes more difficult to move. But after 5 or 10 minutes it’s definitely harder.

Join a reputable program for improvements

COACH PARRY: Any more specific questions that you’ve got?

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  Those are the main ones. What I get out of this is for the swimming do a lot of drills. At best I just do a very minimum amount of drills. And go for a lot of distance like swim 3km in a session twice a week. So that has to change. Instead of doing that one long swim, doing 2 sessions of shorter duration with drills.

COACH PARRY: Yes, that would be great and you will feel when those drills are really starting to have an effect. You start to move through the water easier and stronger. You will feel that you’ve got contact with the water for longer. Then when that starts to happen, you keep some drills. But you can reduce the number of drills and then you can start increasing that cardiovascular component again.

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  I went with this Total Immersion program a couple of years ago. It seemed to have a lot of benefit in terms of being able to sustain the pace that I was able to hold for the full distance. But like I said, stagnated at a slower speed. Should I continue with some of the form that they promote at total immersion? Is that a good program to follow?

COACH PARRY: Yes, it is a good program. As with all things there are 1 or 2 things that swim coaches don’t feel that good about. But it definitely works and definitely improves swimming. You’ve to keep at it. As I said, once you start to swim better, you want to keep some aspects of those drills and the things that they teach. Because slowly over time, we will erode and start going back to time.

Read literature to increase your knowledge for improvements

So, you need to keep reinforcing with small amounts of these drills to keep you at the very least, in a good place. It is a good program; people improve markedly when they go on Total Immersion. Yes I can recommend that.

There is 1 or 2 others that are also good but one of the good things about it, is that you actually have the training videos. You can see how the drills are supposed to be done. You can film yourself and see how you are measuring up compared to how the drills are being done. Those are big positives.

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  Okay, fantastic.

BRAD BROWN: Michael, as far as one-on-one coaching, are you following specific programs? Or have you figured this out for yourself and doing your own thing?

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  I’ve basically pulled in as much information as I can. Tried out, tested out, and I’d say now it has become an amalgam of a whole bunch of different things I’ve picked up from different places.

If I had to put the core for running, it will be based on Bennie Dryer or Joe Friel’s Evolution Running. That’s actually why I got back into running. Before I would be a heel striker and that just made my ankle shake with pain from my rugby injury.

Like I said, now I’ve adapted to the Evolution Running or the Kai Running if you want to call it that, and that seemed to be good. I’ve added in different components. The big one was nutrition. Kind of played around with nutrition and I figured out what works for me.

Be cautious not to add in too much

For cycling it’s just a lot of guys that I cycle with and I kind of figured things like the hot spots on the freeway. Like how do you figure that out? Just play around with the cleat position. I guess I just blend a whole bunch of things together but if it works, keep at it. If it doesn’t work, drop it.

BRAD BROWN: Sounds good. Lindsey anything else from your side before we wrap things up?

COACH PARRY: I think Michael’s got a lot of the basics in place and I guess that’s why he has been pretty successful up until now. I think with those 2 changes, which are not major changes, I think he really can go 11-and-a-half hours, and possibly a little bit beyond.

But for me again, there may be some things that a personal coach could adjust in terms of the balance. On the face of it when we look at how well he runs off the bike, he really is far enough down the right track. The only thing I must warn you about Michael, is that when you add in the 5 components, you do need to be mindful about how it could upset the balance of your week.

Take note of how you are recovering. Don’t let yourself get pushed into too dark a hole. I know I said 3 weeks and then a week of recovery. But if it needs to be 2 weeks and a week of recovery, then make those small adjustments. Don’t take all the good work you’ve done now and push yourself into a hole where you’re literally knackered all the time. That’s not going to help you improve. It’s going to make you worse.

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  Sounds great. Got it.

BRAD BROWN: Awesome stuff. Michael thank you so much for being in touch and thank you for being a part of the Coach Parry online community as well. We really appreciate you and thanks for your time today. Best of luck and stay in touch.

Pop into the forums, let us know how you’re going and if you’ve got any questions just pop them through there.

MICHAEL AIKMAN:  Sounds great.

Subscribe to RUN with Coach Parry

Subscribe on iTunes

Download via RSS